Escambia kids have 'nothing to do after' school. Children's Trust investing $6 million to fix it

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There are about to be nearly $6 million-worth of new or expanded after-school, before-school, preschool and summertime programs for Escambia County children.

The Escambia Children’s Trust has already heard from over a dozen local program coordinators and child service providers who have expressing interest in the trust’s newly-released request for proposals focused on out-of-school programs.

The Trust has allocated $5,840,000 to invest in local out-of-school time programs, according to Kim Krupa, the Escambia Children’s Trust director of programs, and will be reviewing them in the coming weeks.

“Out-of-school time is just a really, super important time,” explained the Trust’s Executive Director Tammy Greer. 

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“They can learn new skills or a sport or get tutoring or do something positive,” Greer continued. “Or, it’s also the time of day that you see the most youth crime and that kids can also engage in risky behaviors, like using drugs or alcohol, or having unprotected sex or all the things that get them into trouble as teenagers because their parents are still at work, and basically, they’re unattended.”

The trust’s aim is to divvy the nearly $6 million amount among various local programs that are deemed worthwhile investments to better the lives of young people and their families.

The trust is looking for programs that provide children with “foundational skills and guidance that extend beyond” classrooms and help to further young peoples’ cognitive and social skills and emotional maturity.

Currently, Greer said, Escambia County does not have “nearly enough” out-of-school time programs.

“There just aren’t enough,” she said.

In the past several months, Greer and other Children’s Trust employees attended a “Youth Summit” where they listened to teenagers speak about the needs of their respective communities.

“They kept saying, ‘There’s nothing for us to do. There’s nowhere for us to go. We don’t have anything to do after school,’” Greer recalled.

She added that there is a particular local need for affordable preschool programs.

“Another thing that we’re seeing is that kindergarten readiness, or the lack thereof, has been an issue for a while in Escambia County,” Greer said.

Research initiatives have led the Children’s Trust leadership to theorize many parents don’t enroll their children into free voluntary prekindergarten program because such programs are only a few hours long per day.

“If you’re a working parent, then you’d have to come back and pick the child up and then take them to another place for care because many of the VPK programs don’t have an after care component,” she said.

The trust, therefore, hopes to be able to fund innovative preschool programs.

But, again, the close to $6 million of funding will not be wholly focused just on preschool-aged children.

Rodney Jones who is the founder and operator of a teen services program, HOOPS Vocational Rehabilitation Career Camp, said he will definitely be one of the program coordinators responding to the RFP.

“I’m hoping to get funding for our work-based learning component where we help groom young people into career mindedness,” Jones said. “We bring them in, we teach them social skills, as well as soft skills like working on the computer, but more than that, we take them on field trips that broaden their horizon.”

HOOPS program makes an impact on lives in Pesacola

While Jones has taken his students on field trips to places like the University of West Florida and to Blue Wahoos Stadium, he said trust funding will allow HOOPS to expand the distance and scope of its educational trips.

“I want to be able to take them to Florida State (University). I want to take them to the Capitol, so that they can see people that come from small places, who may not have had anything, but yet are doing all these wonderful things with their lives now,” Jones said. “And I think that’s what we have to do for our young people who grow up without anything, we have to expand their horizons, give them something that they can shoot for.”

Hassan Hills, the founder of the brand new nonprofit Youths Left Behind Corp., said he too will be responding to the RFP.

“The reason why I’m excited to apply is because Youth Left Behind is putting forth the effort to create a respectful, responsible community for our young people living in our low income in our urban community,” Hills said.

If awarded funding, Hills plans to hire three retired teachers to join his nonprofit and tutor students in the afternoons.

James Washington, of the nonprofit James B. Washington Education and Sports Inc., said he hopes the nearly $6 million will be distributed equitably.

“We have about 120 kids in our program, and what concerns me is that, a lot of times, the smaller nonprofits or the African American nonprofits, we don’t get any of the funding or they want to give us $10,000 for something like that,” Washington said.

Students who attend Washington’s nonprofit program afternoon school receive help with their homework, a snack and undergo an academic tutorial before attending an in-house basketball practice — all while staying out of trouble.

“A lot of those kids, they just walk outside and it’s drug-infested. They just walk outside, it’s gangs. They walk outside, they’re seeing police, people getting arrested, people getting shot,” Washington said. “Those kids, they’re dealing with a lot of trauma.

“But if there’s nothing left for those kids, no afterschool program, then, they wouldn’t have a chance to make it.”

Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at colinwarrenhicks@pnj.com or 850-435-8680.